Director of Pelican Bomb on New Orleans art, community and food
My House Nola recently sat down over tea with burger lover and Executive Director of NOLA arts organization Pelican Bomb Cameron Shaw, as she spoke about the connectivity of art, community and food in New Orleans; how she won $10,000; and why she can’t live without (spicy) salsa.
My House NOLA: Cameron, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to move to New Orleans?
Cameron Shaw: I get asked the question of why we moved a lot, and there's really no reason -- beyond we fell in love with the place. I'm originally from Los Angeles, but I moved away for college and never went back. I was living in New York for five years before I moved to New Orleans in 2010 with my husband Nick. I knew New York wasn't right for me anymore. When Nick and I visited New Orleans, we both had the same reaction; something clicked in our brains. New Orleans made us think the way we wanted to be thinking, and we had the luxury at the time to pursue that. I had just won a big writing grant and had been a contestant on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.
MHN: How far did you get?
CS: Not very far! I don't have the right personality to go on a game show. Back then, I was very shy and totally freaked out. But I made 10,000 bucks! I had a rough round and walked away on a hard question.
MHS: What was the $10,000 question?
CS: "What is Hillary Clinton’s middle name?" The right answer is Diane.
MHN: Can you tell us how Pelican Bomb got started and more about your newest exhibition Foodways?
When I first moved here, I took a part-time job with a brand new website, which ended up being Pelican Bomb. I call myself an “accidental founder.” My job was to develop the content, which became the foundation of the organization that exists now. I had no idea this part-time job would change the direction of my life entirely.
Foodways is our second exhibition. I curated it with Pelican Bomb’s co-director, Amanda Brinkman. The first thing we knew was that we wanted to use an empty, underutilized space, so not a white-walled gallery. Over the last few years, there have been several important exhibitions about the intersection of food and contemporary art. One of Pelican Bomb’s goals is to connect New Orleans’ artist practices to larger conversations in contemporary art, so this seemed like a perfect fit.
MHN: Was it important for you to use regional artists?
CS: Yes, definitely. We think about Southern regional identities a lot and food is such a distinctive way that people and places express who they are. We thought about New Orleans and this idea that food here is not only about cultural preservation. It can also be a form of protest.
As so much of the country has turned into big chain restaurants, New Orleans continues to have “mom and pop” places where the food hasn’t changed in decades. It has plenty of restaurants that focus on history, local traditions and people. That's really special and worth pointing out. We use contemporary art, but Foodways is an exhibition about preserving culture and telling stories.
MHN: What are three ingredients you can’t live without?
CS: I can’t live without tea. I always have spinach in the house or some kind of green. I also need to have salsa. My grandmother is Mexican and I’m a California girl, so I grew up eating a lot of Mexican food.
MHN: Mild, medium or spicy salsa?
CS: Spicy. There's no such thing as too spicy.
MHN: What do you think new Orleans is lacking food-wise, and is there a specific restaurants or type of food that you miss from your hometown?
CS: When I first moved here I really missed ramen. New Orleans has since expanded its options, but I will always have a special place in my heart for New York City ramen. I also miss great, super fresh sushi. Los Angeles has amazing sushi.
MHN: Can you tell us about the recipe you chose for us to make?
CS: It seems silly, but something I make well is black beans. I make them from scratch. It’s simple, cheap, tastes good and a pot lasts all week.
MHS: What is the weirdest thing in your fridge right now?
CS: Flower essences that were recommended to me by an acupuncturist. I have hornbeam for procrastination and iris for creativity.
MHS: Do the flowers work?
CS: I’m not sure yet.
Check back next week for Cameron’s top favorite restaurants in New Orleans, as well as one of Cameron’s personal recipes.
This series of stories about New Orleans food trucks, pop-ups and culinary entrepreneurs is made possible through a partnership with My House NOLA, a production planning company for culinary events in New Orleans.